CAREER: Tracing Children's Developing Understanding of Heredity over Time

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Heredity is a fundamental concept that underlies the life science standards for upper-elementary and middle school grades (American Association for the Advancement in Science, 1993 & 2001; Michigan Department of Education, 2008; National Research Council, 1996). Research shows that students of all ages tend to hold alternative conceptions about this topic in biology (e.g., Clough & Wood-Robinson, 1985; Kargbo, Hobbs, & Erickson, 1980; Lewis & Wood-Robinson 2000). Further, research on student understanding of heredity and related concepts reveal that students are trying to make sense of their observations but lack insight into the unseen processes involving genotypes.

While there is much relevant information concerning what and why and how students learn topics related to heredity, there is also much more to be learned from careful instructional interventions and research on student learning in and from those interventions.

The primary objective for this research is to study how fifth through seventh grade students develop integrated understandings of key concepts regarding heredity across time, using a Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE). To measure the specific effects the technology has on student learning, this study investigates the instructional design issues with WISE, such as varying treatments with excellent control of the content that students encounter. A secondary focus of this research is to examine the relationships between students' learning outcomes and teachers' classroom practices when implementing the WISE instructional materials.


This research takes place in a suburban school district located in Michigan.

Research Design: 

This project has a cross-sectional research design and will generate causal [quasi-experimental] evidence, including some descriptive [case study] evidence. Original data are collected through assessments of learning or achievement tests; and observation [videography]. These data will be analyzed with MANCOVA and HLM (in some cases). Interactional and discourse analysis will also be employed for the qualitative data set.

Publications & Presentations: 

There are no project publications at this time.

Other Products: 

This project is designed to generate curriculum materials for grades five through seven.